A young band of reformers has declared a revolt against the Brooklyn Republicans and its rulers, Kings County chairman Craig Eaton and State Senator Marty Golden, the only elected Republican in the borough and thus de-facto leader. The insurgents' beef is ideological, cultural, technological, generational—and it's personal.
"It's a complete schism," says Jonathan Judge, the just-turned-24 president of the Brooklyn Young Republicans Club. "People are fed up with how this party's been run."
Judge has cool blue eyes and a fire-red mop of hair; his nasal voice is Brooklyn-accented and infused with practiced confidence, like a politician's. That makes sense, as Judge ran early this year in the special election for Simcha Felder's former council seat, though he failed to win his party's backing. The eventual Republican candidate, Judge notes sadly, received just 1 in 40 votes.
Over iced coffee recently, Judge, a Kensington native, told me his neighborhood has "really changed," that in the last few years it has welcomed an influx of young professionals looking for a "more bucolic setting." He notes happily the neighborhood's "nice cross-section of different histories and cultures." Wait—happily? What kind of Republican is this? Asking me to meet him at a vegan-friendly juice joint in Midwood? Wearing jeans and flip-flops?
Judge's Republicanism is more Libertarian than Evangelical, rooted in small-government principles rather than social issues. Some of the Brooklyn Young Republicans "don't mind gay marriage," Judge tells me. Others are obstinately pro-choice. But there's no homogeneity on such wedge issues. What they do share is a fierce disdain for corruption—Judge is completing a make-your-own-Master's at N.Y.U. in government corruption—and a strong belief in low taxes, used to fund only essential services: positions which could win over an impressionable public, much of which Judge sees as non-ideological.
But the Eaton-Golden leadership, he alleges, is more concerned with defending the power they've amassed than in broadening the party's reach: that it's a deal-making Bay Ridge Boys Club clinging to its corner of influence, enabling the Democratic majority. Republicans often don't challenge Democrat-held seats, and when they do, they run weak candidates. (And, maybe, vice versa: Marty Golden has run unopposed in his last three elections.) "Democracy doesn't exist without choice," Judge says.
Eaton denies these charges—"I'm really not worried about anyone's power"—particularly the deal making. "Those deals took place 20 years ago," he tells me. No deals exist now; none have been made in the roughly three years since Eaton became chairman, he stresses.
In fact, Eaton, 50, insists there's no party division, "notwithstanding anonymous attacks from men and women on blogs." Indeed, much of this ballyhoo has played out on the web, particularly on the reformist blog Atlas Shrugged in Brooklyn—whose contributors use as pseudonyms the names of Ayn Rand characters—which attacks Eaton's "Bay Ridge Cabal" almost daily.
This speaks to the party's generational divide. County leaders have long run the party with a top-down approach, Judge tells me. You "wait your turn," he says, his pale face flushed from either summer heat or pique. But kids today don't want to wait their turn: they're into grass roots movements and decentralized media—a bottom-up approach to politics. "It's changing the dynamic," Judge says, on a county, statewide, even national level. The Old Guard hasn't been nearly as web-savvy as itsyounger counterparts, although Eaton tells me that through the party's website he's building the base and expanding the candidate pool. "They feel threatened by that," Judge says.
Eaton doesn't sound threatened, although reports surfaced a few weeks ago that he's trying to shut down the Brooklyn Young Republicans club and replace it with a more simpatico counter-club. He just sounds exasperated. "I'm just trying to get candidates elected," he tells me, irritated. And if some Republican candidates have been weak? "I'm doing the best I can with the candidates we have," he says. "I can't fabricate candidates."